The City of Chicago is not legally responsible for the 13 deaths and dozens of injuries in a porch collapse in 2003, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled. Victims and family members had sued the city in 38 suits. They said city inspectors had failed to act despite knowing that the porch, built without a permit and not complying with codes, was unsafe. The court said the city was not responsible for injuries on private property not in compliance with codes.
Partygoers crushed to death by balcony collapse in Chicago
By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
Monday, 30 June 2003
At least 12 young people at a party in a trendy area of Chicago died yesterday when a wooden balcony collapsed.
The second-floor structure crushed partygoers on a balcony and a porch below when it fell into a basement stairwell.
The young people, in their early 20s, had taken over much of the building in the Lincoln Park district, just north of the city centre. Police said that as many as 50 people may have been standing or dancing on the balcony when it gave way.
Six men and six women died in the incident, according to the medical examiner's office. Most of those killed were on the lower floors.
One woman from North Carolina said she stepped on to the balcony as it fell. The woman, 24, who did not want to be named, said: "I took one step, maybe two and then I heard creaking and splitting and screaming. The most horrible screaming.
"I fell for a second - I was told 30 feet - then I had stuff on top of me like wood and also people below me. My right foot was caught for a second and I pulled it free.
"I opened my eyes and I looked up and I realised I was about four feet below the ground floor. Somebody from the party was there. I said, 'Please get me out, please get me out'. He grabbed my arm and then got me out."
The woman said she had four scrapes on the left side of her body and a few cuts. "I am just so lucky," she said.
Fiona Cannon was in a kitchen on the second floor when the balcony collapsed She said: "All of a sudden I saw all these heads going down. The floor just dropped out from underneath them. They all went down in unison."
Authorities said that 45 people were injured, 10 of them critically. By the time emergency services arrived at the scene, those at the party were panicking. James Joyce, the Chicago fire department commissioner said: "There was chaos. There were people screaming and crying in the alley."
Police believe that the party filled up as word spread around the neighbourhood that it was taking place. Many of those at the party had known each other for years and attended the same high school in Chicago's affluent northern suburbs.
Lincoln Park is a one-time working-class district with an old, rickety housing stock, now popular with students and young professionals because of its proximity to Lake Michigan and the city centre.
One neighbour familiar with the building, an orthopaedic surgeon called David Guelich, said that the balconies were built to hold no more than 20 to 30 people. Mr Joyce added: "It was simply a case of too many people in a small space."
The balcony collapsed shortly after midnight yesterday morning. By first light, television pictures showed the wooden rails of the second-floor balcony still in place. The floor, however, was shattered. Much of the wreckage had been cleared away, but witnesses described how casualties had become mangled in a mess of bricks, wooden planks and dirt at the bottom of the building. Rescue workers used chainsaws to cut through some of the larger beams to reach the injured and the dead.
City hospitals said that they were treating survivors for multiple abrasions, fractures and bruising. Sharolyn Medina, a doctor at Masonic hospital in Chicago, said several patients had driven themselves in for treatment or taken taxis. "I think all of them feel very lucky to be alive," she told CNN.
Larry Langford, a spokesman for Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said that, although the building dated back to the 19th century, the balconies appeared to be no more than a year old.
He described how the people on the top of the pile were at least risk as the balconies rammed into each other. "Someone on the third-floor porch when it fell could have theoretically ridden it down and stepped off uninjured," Mr Langford said.
It was Chicago's second disaster in five months. In February, a stampede at a large nightclub in Chicago's South Loop district claimed 21 lives. Clubbers were crushed to death when a crowd became trapped in a narrow staircase. The panic was set off by a club worker using a crowd-control spray to quell a fight. An investigation into that incident is still looking at the pattern of building code violations and the failure of city officials to enforce regulations, which contributed to the stampede.
The Chicago nightclub deaths came a few days before a fire in a nightclub in Rhode Island, in which more than 100 people died.